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Three Half Marathons Get Road Season Started

by Brett Larner

Three half marathons over the long weekend marked the start of the transition from ekiden season to the winter and early spring road season.  The first elite-level Japanese half marathon of the year, Sunday's 41st Unzen Obama Half Marathon, saw a great battle almost to the line between pro Taku Miyahara (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki) and Keisuke Sago (Takushoku Univ.).  Miyahara took the title in 1:04:21, just 2 seconds off the course record which dates back to 1996, with Sago 4 seconds back in 1:04:25.  Miyahara's teammate Hayato Mera (Team Mitsubishi Juko Nagasaki) was over a minute behind in 3rd in 1:05:40.

The same day in Tokyo, Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref.) started off his season as usual at the 14th Mari Tanigawa Half Marathon.  Starting off at world record pace with a 2:42 opening km he soon settled down to take 1st in 1:05:31, his second win and fastest time at the Tanigawa Half. Kaori Yoshida (Puma RC) won her fourth-straight women's race in 1:15:56. Japanese media coverage of the Tanigawa Half reported that earlier this week Kawauchi had declined an offer from Toshihiko Seko to meet to discuss joining Seko's new DeNA corporate team, telling him, "I have no intention of following anyone's orders."

Monday's national holiday saw a new women's course record at the 53rd Oita City Half Marathon.  Local Yuka Yano (Canon AC Kyushu), winner of Oita's 10 km division in 2010, took nearly a minute off the year-old course record set by her teammate Saori Makishima as she won in 1:14:28.  Another Canon runner, Hitomi Shimofuji, was not far off the old record in 1:15:40 for 2nd.  In the men's race, Takehiro Arakawa (Team Asahi Kasei), a former Tokai University runner who famously DNF'd on the Hakone Ekiden's anchor stage after breaking his foot in a railway crossing, won easily in 1:05:14, with amateur Ryuichi Tabuki (Hita T&F Assoc.) and Oita Tomei H.S. Girls' Ekiden Team assistant coach and former Juntendo University captain Yuki Nanba both just under 66 minutes.

(c) 2013 Brett Larner
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Kawauchi Breaks Nobeyama Ultra Course Record

2018 Boston Marathon winner Yuki Kawauchi (Saitama Pref. Gov’t) won the longest race of his career to date Sunday in Nagano, taking over six minutes off the Yatsugatake Nobeyama Kogen 71 km Ultramarathon in 4:41:55.

A training run for next month’s Stockholm Marathon, Kawauchi set off solo at a steady pace around 3:45/km. Climbing from 1355 m to 1908 m as he approached 20 km he naturally slowed, but with over 1000 m of descent over the next 30 km he was soon back on track. Hitting the marathon split around 2:39, he was so far ahead of the 2nd placer that the announcer initially forget Kawauchi had already gone by and announced the next runner as the leader.

At 58 km Kawauchi was on track to clear 4:30:00, but hitting the uphills in the final 10 km and feeling the effects of the unfamiliar distance he slowed to almost 5:00/km. But with so much leeway to work with there was never any danger of the 4:48:13 course record slipping out of reach. Kawauchi stopped the clock in 4:41:55, please…

How it Happened

Ancient History I went to Wesleyan University, where the legend of four-time Boston Marathon champ and Wes alum Bill Rodgers hung heavy over the cross-country team. Inspired by Koichi Morishita and Young-Cho Hwang’s duel at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics I ran my first marathon in 1993, qualifying for Boston ’94 where Bill was kind enough to sign a star-struck 20-year-old me’s bib number at the expo.

Three years later I moved to Japan for grad school, and through a long string of coincidences I came across a teenaged kid named Yuki Kawauchi down at my neighborhood track. I never imagined he’d become what he is, but right from the start there was just something different about him. After his 2:08:37 breakthrough at the 2011 Tokyo Marathon he called me up and asked me to help him get into races abroad. He’d finished 3rd on the brutal downhill Sixth Stage at the Hakone Ekiden, and given how he’d run the hills in the last 6 km at Tokyo ’11 I thought he’d do well at Boston or New York. “If M…

The Kawauchi Counter

Yuki Kawauchi's 2018 race results: Jan. 1: Marshfield New Year's Day Marathon, U.S.A.: 2:18:59 - 1st - CR
Jan. 14: Okukuma Road Race Half Marathon, Kumamoto - 1:03:28 - 7th
Jan. 21: Yashio Isshu Ekiden, Saitama: 1:01:03 - 1st - ran entire 20.0 km ekiden solo and beat all 103 teams of 6 runners each
Jan. 28: Okumusashi Ekiden First Stage (9.9 km), Saitama - 29:41 - 6th
Feb. 4: Saitama Ekiden Third Stage (12.1 km), Saitama - 36:54 - 4th
Feb. 11: Izumo Kunibiki Half Marathon, Shimane - cancelled due to heavy snow
Feb. 18: Kitakyushu Marathon, Fukuoka - 2:11:46 - 1st - CR
Feb. 25: Fukaya City Half Marathon, Saitama - 1:04:26 - 1st
Mar. 4: Kanaguri Hai Tamana Half Marathon, Kumamoto - 1:04:49 - 12th
Mar. 11: Yoshinogawa Riverside Half Marathon, Tokushima - 1:05:50 - 1st - CR
Mar. 18: Wan Jin Shi Marathon, Taiwan - 2:14:12 - 1st
Mar. 24: Heisei Kokusai University Time Trials, Saitama
              5000 m Heat 4: 14:53.95 - 1st
              5000 m Heat 6: 14:36.58 - 2nd
           …